Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's a Sport?

NPR has an article on their website today that made me revisit my thoughts on the question above.

So, what's a sport?

Generally speaking a sport is any athletic activity that involves the following: objective rules and scoring, a field or court of play with relatively fixed dimensions, equal-opposing sides (individual or team) whose strategies directly impact the progress/scoring of the other team, a certain level of spectator freedom, and an understood winner and loser determined by the aforementioned objective scoring system.

For example:
  • Basketball is a sport. Two opposing sides, objective rules and scoring, a court, a time clock that declares that whoever is in the lead at its expiration is declared victor.
  • Football is therefore a is soccer, hockey, tennis (though lack of crowd liberty almost gets tennis in trouble), volleyball, rugby, et al.
So what is not a sport?
  • Golf - Golf is a game. It's played against courses that are without fixed dimensions. Though it's scoring system is objective, scoring is not done against an opponent--nobody is allowed to guard the cup or tries to block the ball. Plus, golf's spectators are not allowed to cheer with any measure of freedom. (Bowling is also a game. Though bowling does have fixed dimensions and objective scoring, none of us would ever be comfortable calling it a sport. If bowling had a goalie I might consider it a sport.)
  • Gymnastics, figure skating, diving, skateboarding, etc - These are not sports either. These are competitions. No doubt these activities require athleticism, but because of their subjective scoring systems they cannot qualify as a sport. 
  • NASCAR and Horse Racing - These are races. And since they are largely decided by something other than the human element (car and animal) they don't meet the criteria to be a sport. 
  • Swimming, Track and Field  - These are timed events. There is no fixed scoring system. (except when determining team achievement), but even with that the athletes are not ever opposing one another. They could perform all their events individually and a winner could be determined with the exact same criteria (the clock). Not sports.
  • Boxing - Boxing is often called a science, and for good reason. I am leery to call it a sport for the fact that most bouts are determined by a subjective scoring system. If every fight were determined by knockout or TKO it would be a sport. Therefore boxing is also a competition...but I'm not settled on this. Maybe we could call it a fight.
  • Baseball - Baseball is a pastime. It defies category. I quote John Kruk, "I'm not an athlete...I'm a baseball player."


  1. Thoughts? Absolutely.

    1. Surprisingly, I would agree that baseball is not a sport. It's the most awesome, but not the most sport. It's the hardest thing to do ... but so is calculus. And calculus is not a sport.

    2. I'm also gonna have to assume that you define sports as different than competition.

  2. You can compete in a sport, but competition is its own category (ie. "Diving Competition", "Cheerleading Competition").

    I know I'm splitting hairs, but you have to draw a line somewhere, because invariably some idiot will come along and say that cheerleading is a sport.

    I have deep theological convictions about my daughters never cheerleading.

  3. my rule in high school was that if you weren't a cheerleader, i wouldn't date you.